Kiefer Sutherland: Man of the Hour


Kiefer Sutherland has been on a quest for the past two decades. Beyond the Emmy and Golden Globe he's received for playing Jack Bauer on Fox's acclaimed action series "24," more than the attention he's received for his roles in such films as "A Few Good Men" (1992) and "A Time to Kill" (1996), what Sutherland has been hungering for is a meaty script that he and his father, actor Donald Sutherland, can really sink their teeth into. And now, with his optioning of Lucinda Franks' best-selling memoir "My Father's Secret War," it seems he's found it.

"We're very excited about 'My Father's Secret War,'" Kiefer Sutherland says of the story, which puts the spotlight on Franks' philandering father who, in his youth, worked as a secret agent behind enemy lines during World War II. "We're hoping to get that off the ground -- physically shooting it within a year and a half to two years -- after '24' is finished."

It's a fitting project for the actor, who's already looking at life beyond "24," which begins its seventh season in January (Season 8 is also in the works). With its story of spies and intrigue, the book, which will be adapted by screenwriter Nicholas Meyer ("Elegy"), should fit Kiefer Sutherland like a glove. More importantly, it gives the Sutherlands the chance to work together. "I really wanted to have that kind of an opportunity to do something with my father," Sutherland says. "'My Father's Secret War' represents 20 years of looking for the right material."

Before he goes to "War," there's still plenty of "24" to be had, and Sutherland, as star and executive producer, is involved every step of the way. "It would be impossible to overstate the value Kiefer brings to our show in terms of his professionalism as an actor and as an executive producer," says 20th Century Fox TV chairman Gary Newman.

"He arrives every day prepared for his work. He's focused, he's fast and incredibly demanding of himself and others in terms of the creative quality of what we do."

"24" executive producer Howard Gordon believes that Sutherland's identification with his character Jack Bauer is crucial to the success of the series. "Kiefer has a really interesting relationship to Jack," Gordon says. "At some level, I think Jack is an aspirational character for Kiefer. I think our affection for Jack comes from Kiefer's affection for Jack. He really does ultimately induct us into that character and make us feel what we're supposed to feel. Kiefer has a knowledge of Jack Bauer that is deep in a way that nobody else's could possibly be. I think it's that thoughtfulness and the depth of his commitment to the character that makes it come alive."

Sutherland's commitment to his work will be recognized today, when he's honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, next to the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

While some might think that Sutherland's rise in the industry had a lot to do with his father's influence, he has always taken pains to make it on his own.

Born in London and raised in Canada along with his twin sister by his mother, the actress Shirley Douglas, after his parents' divorce when he was 4, Sutherland chose the life of an actor independent of any family recommendations. He dropped out of private school at 15 and put a lot of pressure on himself to succeed without coasting on his pedigree. He arrived in Los Angeles when he was 20 and established himself as an intense performer in such films as "Young Guns" (1988) and "Flatliners" (1990). But it was his turn to television seven years ago that laid the groundwork for the career path that he is firmly on now.

Nobody could be happier with Sutherland's TV work than the Fox Broadcasting Co., which sees "24" as a linchpin in the network's thrust into dramatic series. "The show solidifies Fox's image as a supplier of quality TV," says Fox Broadcasting Co. chairman Peter Liguori. "It turned the Fox brand from a place that had some scrappy, almost tabloidish roots into a home of some of the finest drama in the history of television."

Liguori credits Sutherland's ability to draw audiences -- male and female -- into Jack Bauer's fate as the main factor in the show's must-see power. "Audiences appreciate creative daring. This has been a show which clearly challenged an audience to follow those 24 real-time episodes. The audience leaned into the show wondering if the show creators and Kiefer could pull off such an ambitious notion," he says. "Kiefer's ability to convincingly go through such an arc, to go through those challenges while doing 24 one-hour episodes is a real testament to how invested the audience is in him."

And Sutherland is invested in Fox. Even when the last hour chimes for "24," his relationship with the network will continue into the foreseeable future. His production company, East Side Entertainment, is housed on the Fox lot and has a first-look deal with the studio. A couple of scripts are already in development as pilots: the dark comedy "Working Stiff," written by Brad Mirman (1997's "Truth or Consequences, N.M.") about a hitman for the CIA who's trying to juggle his family with his job; and an FBI procedural told from both the perspective of the FBI and a gang responsible for the importation of ephedrine -- the key component for crystal meth -- from the Chinese.

Newman, for one, has no doubt about Sutherland's continued longevity in the business.

"He's a consummate professional," Newman says. "There's no young actor in this town that wouldn't benefit from walking around with Kiefer for a week to see how he conducts himself."